It might take Irsay to rescue us from this Rhino attack

MICHAEL OLESKER

August 15, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Baltimore Rhinos?

Not unless it's short for Rhinoplasty, and the proposed Baltimore football team drafts plastic surgeons to play nose tackle. Rhinoplasty is a nose job. Nose tackles sometimes give spontaneous nose jobs to opposing quarterbacks, but this is no excuse for maligning an entire team.

Here's the real problem with "Rhinos" -- it isn't spelled C-O-L-T-S.

If Baltimore gets a new team, the most brilliant thing for everyone concerned would be returning the name Colts to Baltimore. This isn't just sentiment talking, although sentiment should carry some weight. It also happens to be cold logic.

As long as the Indianapolis team calls itself the Colts, Robert Irsay will never escape the stigma of his middle-of-the-night theft, and the National Football League will never shake its reputation as a heartless accessory after the fact, and the city of Indianapolis will never have a team with its own identity. How can they take pride in a name and a uniform that belong to someone else?

For Irsay, the deal gets better: If he let Baltimore have its old name and uniforms back, he could market an entire line of merchandise bearing his new logo. Colts aren't associated with Indianapolis. Let him call his team the Hoosiers and put a Hoosier on his players' helmets. (What's a Hoosier look like? A bloated air-conditioning magnate, one assumes.)

Anyway, such a switch would mean a merchandising fortune for everyone, blocked only by the stubbornness of . . . well, of rhinos.

Baltimore Rhinos?

Nah. Baltimore Winos before Rhinos. Already, the name has caused great outbreaks of controversy. In this office alone, there have been heated confrontations between various reporters who happen also to be football fans. If you've never seen reporters when they're agitated . . . well, it's not a pretty sight.

Once, I saw a reporter blow up at a copy editor and boldly call him a "reprehensible reprobate." But the same ones who wouldn't make a fist to throw a punch are the first to scream for blood when their linebacker's going for the other team's quarterback.

This is why the name Rhino is so misguided. It reminds us of uncomfortable truths about the nature of organized football.

It is not a game of lithe, balletic children leaping for perfect arcs tossed in the autumn sunshine. This is merely the stuff of our playground memories, and of slow-motion replays on television sets, where all grunting, all forearm shivers, all late shots to the kidneys, are muffled in the sound booth.

When played properly (by professional standards), football is grown men hurting each other and ensuring they will spend the (( rest of their lives in glorious arthritic splendor.

Here's a memory that's never gone away: It's the mid-1970s, and the Colts are playing the Buffalo Bills at Memorial Stadium. I'm standing near the Colts' bench with a press pass when a Buffalo Bill fields a punt, heads up the sidelines, and gets knocked out of bounds literally a yard from me.

The whistle blows, the play is dead, the guy's lying there catching his breath. Now comes a Colts special teams player, named Junior Kennedy, belatedly flying through the air and landing brutally atop the poor guy.

I'm thinking: This is attempted homicide. I'm also thinking: 15 yards for unnecessary roughness, and maybe Kennedy getting thrown out of the game.

Instead, the nearest referee to the play turns to him and says, "Come on, Kennedy, use better judgment next time." And that's all. No penalty, no nothing. That's pro football. It's legalized, barely controlled mob violence.

And "Rhinos" reminds us too closely of this fact. Rhinos are large, ugly, undomesticated, smelly animals, and therefore much too similar to actual football linemen. This is true no matter the heroic sanitary efforts of those at the Baltimore Zoo, whose two rhinos are the only actual connection between rhinos and Baltimore.

And yet, we were told last week, Rhinos is the first choice of the elders of the National Football League, should they decide to award Baltimore a franchise.

"I was out of town when I heard the news about Rhinos," Herb Belgrade, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said Friday. "I got back to town, and there wasn't any space left on my answering machine at home, or at work, from so many people calling me about the name. There wasn't a single voice that liked Rhinos."

Understand this: If they gave us a shot at "Colts," there wouldn't be a voice against it. Including, if they thought about it, Robert Irsay, or the fans of Indianapolis, or the thinkers in the National Football League.

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